Sunday, April 14, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 572: Jennifer Blackmer

Jennifer Blackmer

Hometown:  New Palestine, Indiana. (Although I lived in the Twin Cities for five years, and several friends have given me permission to call myself a native Minnesotan because I absolutely love it there).

Current Town: Muncie, Indiana. I teach at Ball State University.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I'm a member of the Ingram New Works Lab at the Tennessee Repertory Theatre, which has been the most AMAZING opportunity. I'm working on a new play, UNRAVELED, which is about space, time and knitting.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  When I was twelve (or thereabouts) I decided to teach myself the constellations. So I gathered a blanket, my star chart, an old telescope that belonged to my uncle, some snacks and a little flashlight covered in red cellophane and set myself up in the backyard. I grew up in the country(ish) so the skies were amazing, and as I lay on my blanket I arched my back so that everything in my peripheral vision fell away, and all I could see were the stars. I felt, literally, like I was falling off the earth into the sky. My heart started racing, I lost my breath, and I was exhilarated and terrified at the same time; I wanted nothing more than to keep going, like a never-ending first hill on a roller coaster… But after awhile it was too much, so I ran inside and read "Peanuts" comics for the rest of the night. I think my entire theatrical career has been a quest to recapture that feeling.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  This is an easy one, with a predictably playwright-centric answer: ALL THEATERS, ALL OVER THE PLACE, WOULD PRODUCE MORE NEW PLAYS. No theatre should ever be afraid to experiment. I live in the midwest, and am often disheartened by the lack of opportunities for those of us who don't live in New York. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE NEW YORK, I go as often as I possibly can, but it's hard to be seen as "legitimate" if you don't live there. I know new work is risky for theaters, especially regional theaters, to produce, but there are so many amazing, current, challenging and relevant stories out there that never get told, in lieu of yet another production of CLASSIC-PLAY-FILL-IN-THE-BLANK. It's easy to see why live theater is rarely noticed by younger audiences; I wish that our society were economically equipped to encourage more artistic risk-taking, and that audiences in general sought out new plays. This is one of the reasons why I've become such a huge fan of what Tennessee Rep is doing with the Ingram New Works Festival— over the past few years they've used the project to CULTIVATE an audience for new works in Nashville, and they're turning out in droves! It's exciting, and I'd love to see it happening all over!

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Too many to list, but here goes: Suzan-Lori Parks, Tony Kushner, Caryl Churchill, Tom Stoppard, Helene Cixous, Brecht, Beckett, August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Sarah Daniels, Lisa Loomer, Theresa Rebeck, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Rajiv Joseph, Tracy Letts… my former student Andrew Kramer is in the Emerging Writer's Group at The Public, and is making some gut-wrenchingly beautiful stuff. I'm in awe of directors like Janet Allen, Rene Copeland, Kari Margolis, and Lisa Rothe. My colleagues at Ball State University are some of the most amazing artists I've ever had the pleasure of working with. That said, I think my biggest theatrical heroes are my kids, Ian (10), Eleanor (6) and Lucy (5). When I'm discouraged or stuck in my head, all I have to do is play with them for a few minutes, or lurk in the doorway and watch. The worlds they create are so crazy, marvelous and fantastically detailed, and they remind me every day how lucky I am to do what I do for a living.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  It has to engage the head and the heart. I love experiences where intelligent ideas and ethical dilemmas are given visceral and immediate life RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU; they smack you in the head and shake you to the core. And theatre does this better than any other platform, because it's LITERALLY ALIVE. Theatre should never apologize for its liveness— space and time in the theatre is elastic and malleable, and I love theatre that embraces and challenges our common-sense understanding of it.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  I was held back for a long time by the axiom "write what you know." I think this is bad advice; rather, you should "write what you can imagine" and then find the truth in that, by asking the right questions. And consider every piece of writing that you do, even emails and texts, to be a reflection of who you are.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  THE HUMAN TERRAIN will be presented by IAMA Theatre Company in Los Angeles in a reading on April 21st, directed by Eric Emery.

UNRAVELED will be presented by Tennessee Repertory Theatre at the Ingram New Works Festival on May 11th and May 15th in Nashville, Tennessee, along with new works by the fabulously talented Nate Eppler, Brian D. Walker, Garrett Schneider and Theresa Rebeck. More info here:


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